Divorce statistics are a consistent topic of discussion, but you never thought it could happen to you. Unfortunately, this is a reality for the majority of people getting married in the U.S. and, in fact, worldwide. In the midst of dealing with uncontrollable emotions resulting from the breakup, legal ramifications also come into play. How does the law apply and what role could it possibly have in this private matter? As soon as you are recognized and protected by your state as a legally married couple, exiting that relationship will mean that courts will apply the statute for divorce purposes to your children, property, and debt.

In Texas, either party can start a divorce process by filing an Original Petition of Divorce. This document has basic information about the parties and children, if any, and can request the court to set ground rules involving the parties’ conduct pending final resolution (which may be achieved in a number of ways), pertaining to who sees the children—when and under what circumstances—or use of property (usually a home and vehicles) until such is allocated in the Final Decree of Divorce.

The responding party, or “Respondent,” is required to file an Answer by a specified period of time (the first Monday following 20 days after the petition was served). Failing to file an answer is an implied silent acceptance of the terms in the petition. However, you should keep in mind that, absent special circumstances, there is a 60-day waiting period to finalize a divorce in Texas even if both parties agree otherwise. During this time, it is really important to have those “ground rules” about property and children to keep things from spiraling from bad to worse. What should the possession schedule be for any children involved? If an agreement cannot be reached, either party can set a temporary orders hearing so that a judge can set the ground rules for the pendency of the case.

From there, a case may take many different directions. If the temporary orders do not address all of the issues, or if new issues arise or circumstances change, a case may need further temporary orders or modification of those temporary orders. Otherwise, under such temporary orders, a case will generally have some lag time before pushing toward resolution, which can, in most circumstances, come in the form if informal settlement, a mediated settlement, or a final trial.

Informal settlement

At just about any time, spouses can agree on the terms of their settlement. You don’t need a judge, or a mediator, to reach this agreement. Generally, if the agreement addresses the necessary issues, and is not glaringly unfair or against any children’s best interests, a Judge will sign off on the agreement and the divorce can be so finalized.

Mediated settlement

Some cases need an extra nudge to get to settlement. A mediator is a neutral third party, usually attorney or former judge, who meets with the spouses (usually in separate rooms) to try and facilitate settlement of the case. A mediator is not a judge, and cannot make a binding decision. However, a mediator can reason with and discuss options with the spouses to try and get them to agree. Once the spouses sign an agreement, a mediated settlement agreement, then either party can typically present the agreement to the judge for a divorce to be pronounced. The benefits of mediation can be huge. In addition to avoiding the emotion and financial cost that trial may levy on families, it also allows for a much more custom-tailored final order based on the parties’ specific concerns and desires, rather than a judge-rendered decision that is more confined in terms of options, discretion and time to hear issues in a case.

Final trial

If you cannot agree, informally or through mediation, then for a final decree to be signed and divorce to be granted, this is where you have to go. Final trial can be scary for many people, but it is often the only reasonable way to deal with an aggressive or unreasonable opposing side. A trial, more often than not, in family law, is decided entirely by a judge. But, sometimes, for one reason or another, one party may request a jury to decide certain decisions, although this option is even more costly than a bench trial. It is our experience that being prepared to litigate and execute at trial often leads to fair settlement of cases, and when it does not, it leads to the just outcome at trial.